North East Non-League Football. As hard as nails.

Not a case of “can he do it on a wet night in Stoke” you’ve only made it as a player if you can do it in pouring sleet in Tow Law with a wind-chill factor of minus ten. It’s the law.

A sadly now long gone club in South West Durham,  Stanley United, played at a hill top ground known as the ‘little house on the prairie’.

It was that cold players have been known to get hypothermia and as Harry Pearson said in one of his columns “the wind whistled like a milkman with a death metal fetish”

The wind in the northern League couldn’t have been better described.

Does it have to be this way though? Why do players and spectators have to be masochists and put themselves through it every winter?

Why do fixture secretaries have to have sleepless nights trying to fit in postponed fixtures?

What would happen if Non- League football was played in the summer? I can already here the sniggers at the back. Just as I thought. But an unlikely bedfellow showed the way years ago. The Rugby Football League had been played on bogs every winter since 1895 but funded by Sky’s £87m power grab,

In 1996 it moved lock stock and barrel to being a sport played in the lighter months. Old time RL supporters may yearn for the days of deep mud topped off with a crisp skin of frost but generally it can be viewed with success. Rugby League is played mostly in Northern heartlands. Rivalries between towns forged over the years parochially. Very much the Northern League signature.

Crowds went up, people actually liked watching a spectator sport in a t-shirt rather than four donkey jackets and players who were sceptical actually liked playing on green pitches rather than gloop.

The League of Ireland football league took the plunge as well. It’s actually just kicked off for the 2022 season and runs through until October. They started it off as a trial in the early 2000s.

It was viewed as a way for Irish teams to perform better in Europe initially. The theory went that when the early Qualifying rounds came calling, the Irish teams were as fit as the people they were playing, rather than just come off a beach.

Irish teams have since qualified for Europa League group stages and had Champions league qualifying success. Crowds are up. See that thread throughout here?

The National League system of course makes this proposition flawed from the start. If you want to join the pyramid you have to play the same time as the rest of the leagues, I get it, but the Northern League especially has always gone on its own, rightly or wrongly and that position would suite I think.

This has been a mild winter but we have been battered by winds. The damage to teams’ facilities has been disheartening and its right to say this would have happened whatever season you played, but normally, it’s been the case for the last five years at least, the weather has been getting wetter, rather than colder, which is a death knell for any non-league fixture list.

You can guarantee a dry week until the inevitable Friday night/ Saturday morning downpour which almost completely wipes out a programme.

As a groundsman this has been a frustration for years. Trying to prepare a surface when the grass isn’t naturally growing or hibernating to put it better, is hard.

In the North East of England, it’s a miracle you see any green at all. Summer however I can get the pitch looking immaculate most months all ready for no one to go anywhere near it. The irony.

Surely we all have to provide the best product of whatever the consumer is buying into. I know I sound a bit weird for saying Non-League Football is consumer based but surely if you’re paying £8 you want the best £8 you can get?

Would players not like it better? Spraying a pass along an immaculate pitch rather than wading through mud surely suits players who can actually play. The more of them the better please.

The major thing is the money situation. Football at a lower level is flourishing . Crowds are up which suggests that people like it the way it is but crowds could be more sensational.

When my team are at home the same time as Newcastle you can immediately knock a hundred off, whether that’s people at St James’ or watching the dodgy channel.

In January dragging people out at ten to three is getting harder and harder. In one fell swoop you take away the competition. A bit like the local corner shop seeing the local Tesco demolished.

At least six weeks when local football would have it all their own way. Beautiful.

Think back to when the Euros were on, fans flocked to watch games in bars. Imagine a Non-league team playing before those games. Crowds would reach four figures. That would be the norm.

As a Premier League supporter you would need your fix.

March to October. Yes please.

Obstacles put in front are usually thus:

Cricket season takes over. My argument… It’s not 1950 anymore surely loads of players don’t play both plus the season overlaps in May and August and September but we survive. Wickham’s pitch is dual used and they do ok.

The heat. My argument.. How many weeks is it hot in North East England!? One at most, just hoy the players a water bottle and get on with it.

The Boxing Day derbies. My argument.. They are usually off anyway and the Northern League hasn’t had a full Christmas list for years. Good Friday, Easter Monday and August bank holiday anyone?

Summer Holidays? Yes this might be a ball ache as everyone goes away but is this a good enough reason to stop a league. Get a squad .

I’d say none of these are things that couldn’t be factored in.  Is it not about time we gave it a go?

Scott Robson